Ride the Coach to China

08/09/2010 4:27 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

For a while, the slowdown in North American sales because of the US recession obscured exactly how good a job Coach (NYSE: COH) was doing at cutting costs and expanding in China.

No more.

Growth in North America is back, the company announced in a fiscal fourth quarter earnings report released before the New York Stock Exchange opened on August 3.

Adjusting for the extra week in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2010 (ending June) versus the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009, North American same-store sales climbed 6.3%. That let the company’s strict cost cutting and China growth shine through in the earnings. (It also didn’t hurt that on a constant currency basis, same-store sales climbed 6% in a tough Japanese economy.)

The company reported June quarter earnings of 64 cents a share, eight cents a share better than the 56 cents expected by Wall Street. Earnings in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009 were 45 cents per share, so year-to-year earnings growth in the just-ended quarter was 42%. Revenue climbed by 22% to $951 million, well above the $889 million consensus estimate for the quarter.

Fiscal 2010 marked the first full year for Coach of directly operating its own stores in China. (Previously, the company had operated through a joint venture partner.) Sales in China doubled in the year.

Obviously that was off a relatively small base, but the company did see same-store sales in China grow at a double-digit rate. For fiscal 2011, the company plans to expand its China footprint to include the same mix of retail stores, shops in department stores, and flagship retail stores that characterize its operations in North America and Japan. Coach said it expects to accelerate its store openings in China to 30 new locations in fiscal 2011.

The company is also pushing ahead with two other growth opportunities: Its first standalone Coach stores for men and an entry into Western Europe.

But as the company emphasized in its earnings announcement, China is Coach’s biggest growth opportunity. And on the basis of this quarter, the company remains, in my opinion, one of the best ways to invest in China’s growing middle-class consumer economy.

As of August 9, I’m raising my target price to $51 a share by March 2011 from $48 by October 2010. (It traded above $39 Monday afternoon.)

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any company mentioned in this post.

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